"Purpose alone is no longer a USP"

How Brewgooder is focusing on commercial objectives to maximise impact.

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Scottish beer company Brewgooder started with a bold ambition: to fund projects that empower and improve the lives of 1 million people by 2030. As a Best For The World™ honouree in the Community category, the business has had a strong social impact since launch. But to achieve its target, it has plans to develop the commercial side of its business.  

In hard numbers, the impact of beer company Brewgooder is pretty eye-opening. Through the donations of its Brewgooder Foundation, it has provided upwards of 150 million litres of clean water for people around the world; empowering some 155,920 lives and directly funding over 140 sanitation and clean water projects. And all this from a company that only had two full-time employees in 2020. From day one, social impact has been a core part – in fact, the core part – of the business’ reason for existing.  

The business was founded by friends Alan Mahon and James Hughes in 2016, an idea sparked by Alan’s personal experience of falling ill having drunk unsafe water while volunteering in Nepal. “We wanted to build a brand where the purpose was about enabling people to have the opportunity to live a good life,” explains James. “Clean water came from the fact that when it comes to measuring our impact, we wanted to begin at that most basic need.” 

From day one, social impact has been a core part in fact, the core part of the business reason for existing

Creating a foundation, and finding a partner

The Brewgooder Foundation was set up as an effective middle man to take the profits from beer sales and issue it to charitable partners. The pair quickly found the right organisation in Charity Water, a non-profit that provides drinking water to people in developing nations. One crucial benefit of partnering with them was that it allows Brewgooder to communicate the outsized impact each purchase has. “We did some calculations showing that the contribution per can or pint on the projects that we’ll be funding is upwards of 100 times that volume in clean water,” says James. “It's a visual thing that consumers can grasp quite easily.” Brewgooder sends quarterly contributions to the charity based directly on beer sales. Since launch, James puts the figure at around £200,000 – a substantial number for a business of Brewgooder’s size. 

Diversifying their impact

As the business has grown, Brewgooder has diversified the projects its funded. “We do work in other areas which we’ve defined to fit within a select number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” says James. “That’s to ensure we have diversity in the types of impact we make, but also limiting those SDGs allows us to not spread ourselves too thinly. We will never go after anything and everything – there will always remain four or five key areas we dedicate towards.”

Potential projects are brought to the table at the business’ trustee or foundation meetings and analysed based on how they fit in with the business’ stated goal. “We’ve got two buckets: survive and thrive,” says James. While clean water and sanitation fall firmly into that survival bucket, tackling inequality is one of its emergent focuses – both in the UK and abroad. One recent initiative saw a collaboration with online recipe platform Twisted on a special IPA. Each 4-pack sold contributes towards Your Local Pantry – a social franchise providing community fridges and stores selling subsidised food and drink for people in need, with £15k contributed so far. Brewgooder is also seeking to tackle inequality in the beer industry by funding a scholarship for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students undertaking a brewing and distilling course at the University of Scotland.

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Founders of Brewgooder, Alan and James

Focusing on commercial growth

The founders know, though, that to achieve what they actually want to, they need to change their trajectory. On one hand, that involves bringing in a more rigorous infrastructure to the foundation, with plans to bring in a manager and build out an internal, on-the-ground team to see the projects in action. 

The second, more seismic change is to the business’ overall direction. When Brewgooder started, 100% of the business’ profits went to social projects – something James points out as pretty naive. “We tried to give away more than we could probably afford to,” he says. “In the early days that was really impactful, but ultimately after year two or three, we started to plateau as a consequence of not having any capital to invest in the growth of the business.” Naturally, that meant the business’ impact had levelled off too.

That led to what James calls a ‘really tough decision’ to move away from their 100% profit donation. “We’ve done calculations to realise that if we better balance our commercial objectives with our impact objectives – and set impact objectives that are in tandem with growth – the longer arc of that model means we’ll go way beyond our original model,” he explains. The business has brought in people who are far more commercially minded across marketing and sales to focus on, well, selling beer. It’s already having a clear impact. Brewgooder is on track to make more financial contributions to impact partners in 2022 than the last four years combined.

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More product-first messaging 

And those changes haven’t stopped with hires. There’s been a conscious effort to alter the brand’s messaging to be less about the impact of buying a Brewgooder beer, and more about simply enjoying the beer itself. “When we launched in 2016, purpose-driven brands were few and far between. Now there are plenty of brands saying for every box of cereal box they’ll do whatever. Purpose isn’t a silver bullet for a business,” says James. “I actually feel, on a commercial side, being so impact-first has actually held us back. We want to focus more on what drinkers actually want at that moment of purchase, with their pals in the pub. A really good quality and consistent pint. If you can provide that experience with the knowledge that the brand aligns with their values then it can help them choose you over other brands. But it’s definitely not the lead method that’ll carry you to new heights.” 

Brewgooder’s B Corp lessons

1. Accreditation gives you validation

For co-founder Alan Mahon, one of the biggest reasons for getting B Corp accreditation is the confidence it gives you in the impact you’re making – and how you communicate that with your customers. “For me it’s a way of submitting yourself to an external party that validates your claims – and that’s powerful stuff because you can shout about yourself all you like, but if no-one vouches for you there’s little value in it,” he says.  

2. Tap into the B Corp community

Alan thinks that one of the major benefits of going through the certification process is the access you get to a community of businesses. “The community of B Corp brands is much stronger than I thought,” says Alan. “Conversations between a small brand like ours and a massive brand can be struck up simply because you’re part of the same club.” Its collaboration with fellow B Corp Twisted is proof of that collaborative potential.

3. Let areas for improvement guide your decision-making process  

Deciding upon a business’ strategy is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges for any business owner. That’s where the B Corp assessment can be incredibly useful for a business. “In generating your score, you see in real time the areas where you can improve,” Alan says. “That sets off a chain of new thoughts, ambitions and plans for your sustainability journey.”

To learn more about Brewgooder, head to its website

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